Transforming China CCTV Lenses: Expecting a Rosy Future

Transforming China CCTV Lenses: Expecting a Rosy Future
The Chinese CCTV lens industry has more than 40 years of history, with many major players concentrated in Fujian province in southeast China. There are around 100 lens manufacturers with different scales of production. The products are varied, including infrared (IR), auto and manual zoom, pinhole and high-resolution lenses. Japan, Korea and China are the three major countries producing CCTV lenses in the world. In terms of quality, manufacturing methods and R&D technology, Chinese lenses are lagging behind Japanese ones, but are approaching Korean ones.

China has a 40 percent market share for worldwide lens markets, aiming at mid- and low-end markets. Japan still holds the primary high-end markets. However, the scale of the mid- and low-end markets is generally much larger than the high-end markets. The high-end products have better price profits, but the huge volume amounts for mid- and low-end products create remarkable revenues for manufacturers. Relying on cheaper labor; Chinese CCTV lens manufacturers have the potential to occupy most of the mid- and low-end markets, playing a crucial role in worldwide markets in next few years.

Most Chinese CCTV lens manufacturers are centralized in Fujian province, such as Avemia, F&H, Keekoon, Leading, Ricom and Senview. They are mostly located in two major citiesFuzhou, the capital of Fujian province, and Xiamen. The centralized lens industry has established a mature and stable peripheral supply chain of frame component suppliers and material suppliers. Some other CCTV lens manufacturing cities are Shenzhen in Guangdong province, Lanzhou in Gansu province, Nanyang and Xinyang in Henan province and Changchun in Jilin province. They respectively take 7 percent, 4 percent, 10 percent and 19 percent of total domestic production.

Lens History Up to Now

Ricom, established in 1958, is the earliest lens manufacturer in Fujian and is closely related to the rise of the Chinese CCTV lens industry. Ricom was formerly the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Factory No.8461, which developed optical technology and products for military use. The factory reported to the Fujian Normal College Optical Academy as its R&D organization. In 1978, Factory No. 8461 separated into two parts Ricom and the Fujian Institute of Optical Technology. Ricom became 70 percent privately held and 30 percent state-owned as professional optical lens manufacturer, focusing on the CCTV field in 2001. The Fujian Institute of Optical Technology became a science organization providing research, developing optical technology and offering technical support to other lens manufacturers.

Ricom later brought about other lens companies in Fujian. Foresight was the first CCTV lens manufacturer founded in Fuzhou in 1993. Then Avemia was established in 1997, with F&H, Keekoon, Senview and Leading following its business footsteps. These companies, relying on their previous resources and experience in optical technologies, sales and design, have allowed the lens industry to grow since the 1990s. Southern Fujian formed the biggest hub for Chinese CCTV lens manufacturing. Fujian manufacturers account for more than 60 percent of domestic lens production. Some known players have developed bigger manufacturing capabilities, with some companies prepared to produce more than 700,000 sets each year. While the Fujian CCTV industry has a long history, it is not as strong or advanced as the Chinese camera and DVR industry.

Stepping out of Nation

After going through a long development, Chinese CCTV lenses cover almost all product lines. They include board, varifocal (manual and auto), varifocal with board mount, IR, fixed iris (manual and auto), monofocal, fish-eye and motor zoom lenses. The varifocal and motor zoom lens are sold the most to overseas markets. "Our varifocal lens, which has 2.8-12.0mm focal length, is exporting mostly," said by Yongqing Lin, Chairman of F&H. "We have more experiences on manufacturing the varifocal lens, presently, only 20 percent of our outputs are for domestic markets. Last year, we sold about five thousand sets of manual varifocal lens with 2.8-12.0mm focal length to overseas markets."

Most of lens manufacturers in Fujian are exporting, with about 45 percent of Fujian lens products being shipped overseas. Two factors drove Fujian lens makers to enter international security markets. First, the Chinese domestic market did not provide large demand for lenses in the 1990s. Also, the Chinese lens industry developed later than the Japanese one, as even domestic users preferred Japanese products until now. While Chinese lenses are in the low-end for technical development, they have the advantage of low prices, making the huge international CCTV lens market an attractive opportunity for early Chinese manufacturers. There are some Fujian players skilled at exporting, including Avermia, Ricom and Leading.

Recently, Avermia actively attends international exhibitions. It has invested in foreign markets, for opportunities to cooperate with major camera buyers overseas. It attended all the major American and European exhibitions last year. Looking for the partnership with major international enterprises is Avermiaˇs target now. Ricomˇs goal is to increase export amounts in a short time, while keeping its price advantage.

Leading is comparatively and more stable in export sales; it has maintained good relationships with many long-term partners. It updates its manufacturing technologies and facilities to produce high-quality products.

Continually Moving Forward

Chinese lens manufacturers are focusing on upgrading manufacturing equipment imported from Japan, Korea and Taiwan. A CCTV lens is built with frame components and optical glass. Some leading manufacturers imported advanced Computer Numerical Control (CNC) equipment, improving capability and production efficiency. "We spent 10 percent of our revenue to update equipment last year," said by the International Manager of Avemia, Anna Xing. "We focused on the frame components and optical glass. So we invested a great deal of money to import 30 sets of CNC centers from Korea and optical glass machining devices."

Some Fujian lens manufacturers still purchase optical glass from other suppliers, which are distributed in Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Henan provinces. However, it does not mean they do not have optical glass machining abilities, but as traditional devices are getting outdated, the capacity and speed could not meet quantity requirements. Therefore, some manufacturers importing advanced equipment to improve optical glass processing ability, which control the whole lens manufacturing flow for each component.

"We imported a high-speed lens-polishing machine from Korea," said Eagle Wang, Vice President of Leading. "The traditional machining devices need more labor to operate, and requires hours to produce 40 to 50 pieces of optical glass. With the new high speed lens polishing machine, we could machine the same amount of items in 30 seconds."

Newer coating is better for increasing the luminous flux of lens, as traditional coating methods only apply a single layer that is easily frayed. The Japanese invented the multicoating machine, with better performance from multilayer technology. Very few Chinese companies can purchase this device, but Leading possesses this technology.

Quality control is also an important stage, especially for lens products, as they require advanced optical testing equipment. Fujianˇs major lens manufacturers have focused on monitoring and testing their products since their founding. Some manufacturers have spent great amounts of money and time to introduce ISO standards for their quality control process. "Ricom has always focused on quality control since it was Factory No. 8461, when operated by the National Department," Wuqiang HeManager of Business Planning Department from Ricom said. "We have a collimator, universal toolmakerˇ s microscope, universal optical bench and three-coordinate measuring machine. We will purchase more testing equipments with advanced features."

Technical Limitations

Chinese CCTV lens industry has limitations in advanced optical technologies, manufacturing and testing equipments. For special optical glass or key components, Chinese manufacturers still have to rely on Japan and Korea.

Japanese manufacturers still have the most advanced technology, such as aspheric and high-resolution lenses. The key part of making an aspheric lens is the material, which includes plastic and glass. Its manufacturing requires die-casting techniques with a sophisticated mold and testing machine. Ricom, Leading and Avermia already have the ability to provide plastic aspheric lenses. But the overall quality of Chinese-made plastic aspheric lenses is low. The problem is the testing equipment is different from other lenses, which requires significant funds to import. For this, the aspheric lens is a limitation for Chinese lens manufacturers.

Besides special optical glass, some important frame components, such as the motors for motor zoom lenses and shutter drivers, must be imported from Japan. Chinese suppliers have the ability to produce these parts, but the stability and ability are worse than Japanese parts. Even when the price is better, most clients still prefer Japanese brands for lens components. A special damping oil that is applied inside of lens must be imported as well. China-made damping oil will affect the lens performance in different temperatures. "The Japanese lens shutter driver has two-to-three-year life cycle, with a fault rate of less than one percent," Xing said. "Taiwan product can be used for more than a year with a fault rate of about one percent, but Chinese product can be only used for less than a year with a five percent fault rate, unfortunately."

Lenses are unique products compared to other security products, so they need to be carefully tested. Japanese manufacturers use computers to monitor and test lens products, showing digital results that are easily analyzed by computers. But Chinese traditional equipment still relies on trained specialists to examine products manually. The high price of the testing equipments restricts the testing ability of Chinese manufacturers.

Unknown Future

Many manufacturers plan to target the aspheric, wide-angle and high-resolution lens markets as part of their future goals. Japanese lenses are still leading the industry. But some manufacturers have other ideas. "CCTV lenses should develop with surveillance cameras at same rate and in the same direction. It is hard to exist independently without the camera. I think the high-resolution lens is just an idea right now," said Zhongrong Ke, Deputy Superintendent of the Fujian Institute of Optical Technology. "As we know, the resolution of camera relies on the imaging sensor, which is mainly CCD (charge coupled device) or CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor). CCDs are still the choice of most camera manufacturers, as the amount of CCDs is much higher than the amount of CMOS sensors. The resolution of a CCD is around 40,000 to 44,000 pixels. While many companies say they can provide high-resolution lenses for 400 or 500 megapixels, without a suitable sensor, they cannot produce better images for users."

Some Chinese lens manufacturers are heading in another direction by extending into the CCTV industry, integrating lenses and cameras. "We started producing cameras in 2006," said by Markham Ye, President of Senview. "Camera already takes 20 percent of our total productions."

Another issue is updating devices in the future, which require manufacturers to increase the scale of production with more investment. The manufacturing process needs to be machine-powered to replace traditional manpower. It is the direction for the future. "Whether the manufacturing equipment or the testing devices, the Chinese lens industry remained almost the same in the traditional phase as it was in the ˉ90s. But I forecast that the whole industry will evolve in two to three years," Ke said.

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